Sydney's recent love affair with everything Latin American shows no sign of abating anytime soon. Whether it's the new bars that boast of their dizzying tequila selection, the fact that tacos have replaced burgers as Sydney's favourite pub grub, or the imminent arrival of Mexican food vans, Sydneysiders just can't seem to get enough.
And so it comes as no surprise to find Merivale – the folks behind The Ivy – cashing in on the Latin craze. A few years back they bought the Excelsior, a previously grungy inner-city pub best known for its live music, and turned it into a, well, grungy Mexican-style pub. But like everything Merivale has its hand in – the Beresford for example – the grunge is deliberate and for effect. And so what you've now got is the new Excelsior with attached El Loco – a Mexican-style cantina housed in the back bar.
The entire operation consists of the front bar, tables and chairs out on the pavement and the back room. The front bar is pretty small – high wooden benches are decorated with bottles of hot sauce and Mexicana kitsch is strewn throughout the room. The long bar in the corner is pretty cool, but be prepared to line up, the Excelsior is astonishingly popular and usually gets jammed up soon after knock-off time.
At the bar there are some interesting beers on offer. Cans of Tecate are cheap and go down well on a hot day. They also stock Dos Equis, which is pretty light and refreshing and Pacifico, which is by far the pick of the brews on offer. And for the unadventurous, there is Corona. On the cocktail front, there are four types of margaritas, and if you can't decide between beer and tequila, there's the lagerita. There are also 26 types of tequila available, including the excellent Herradura Blanco and Fat Ass brands.
El Loco is presided over by chef Dan Hong, who has cooked at some of the city's finest eateries, including Tetsuya's. The tacos are a fiver a pop and the best ones are the lemongrass beef and roasted pork and pineapple varieties. Other fillings include prawn, chilli tofu and chicken with sweet corn.
The menu is rounded out by hot dogs, salads, pork sandwiches and fish dishes, but the tacos are the go, and although not cheap, you don't need many to fill you up. And they go awfully well with a Pacifico beer. They're nothing like what you'd get from a real Mexican cantina, but they're harmless fun. Much like the pub itself. Salud.
Great article! I came here a few weeks ago at 6.30pm on a rainy weeknight and it was absolutely packed, so unfortunately had to find somewhere else to go. I'm still keen to try it out though! Love my tacos :)